Friday, July 14, 2017

These Photos of a Kirkbride Plan Insane Asylum (Warren, Pennsylvania) Give Me Chills

Maybe it's the cold, perfect emptiness of these photos (and knowing the human hell that would fill it). It wasn't exactly an enlightened time. I hate to think of the abuse and the curtailment of liberty. Just so sad.

I just learned that this building still exists and is still being used for mental health treatment. Pennsylvania has two extant Kirkbride plan buildings: this and one in Danville. Two (or possibly three) other Pennsylvanian Kirkbride asylums were demolished. Another exists in Pennsylvania but is used by a private company for "non-psychiatric purposes." One could wager a guess that there might be hauntings in all of these extant Kirkbride buildings.

There's this touching bit about the Warren hospital, too, from 2010: 

"The 954 grave cemetery at Warren State Hospital has been the subject of a restoration. Like many state hospital cemeteries, this one was overgrown and neglected until a restoration committee formed at the hospital in 2006. Employees and volunteers are just about finished with the painstaking task of identifying the deceased patients and giving each one a headstone with their name on it."

You can read more about how the Kirkbride Plan dictated a general architectural layout for insane aslyums of the nineteenth century here.  Kirkbride appears to have had good intentions and a progressive mindset. However, worse treatments would follow and the next century would see atrocities committed against the mentally ill.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had a Kirkbride plan asylum (Dorothea Dix was responsible for its creation) but it's on the list of demolished buildings. It was one of the earliest Kirkbride plan asylums.It was torn down in phases and replaced with the Harrisburg State Hospital, which was in use as a mental health facility until 2006. Now its buildings are occupied by several government agencies. 

Most of the information in this post came from the site to which I linked above, There's a wealth of information there about these fascinating structures.

Details on the photographs:

"Period images of Kirkbride Plan architecture, six boudoir cabinet photos (5.25 x 8.5”) signed Bairstow. Gifted from William E.M. Corson (one of three state hospital commissioners) to Cameron Corson (an engineer and likely son) dated November 19th, 1886. Small sketch on one reverse noted John Smithson inmate (perhaps by Corson) of four folky ducks. 

"Beautiful condition with occasional foxing and wear to gilt edges. Letter from a state report magazine about the overflow and patient cost included."

Oh Wow! This Old Painting Suggests Such a Dark Tale!

"Gnarled gypsies climb under an anthropomorphic moon! From an early Somerset Pennsylvania estate, likely last quarter nineteenth century. As found condition, complete with a hundred years of dirt and spots of loss. Oil on board measures 9 x 11.5 inches."

Antique Group of 8 Halloween Pumpkin Head Candy Containers German Papier-Mâché

Creepy-Happy Jack-O'-Lantern Papier-Mâché Pin

"This is a wonderful antique paper mache pumpkin pin, c.1930's, 2" diameter. Unmarked but certainly German. Adorable smiling pumpkin face surrounded by 12 paper petals.

"Wear consistent with age. Some slight wear to pumpkin face, petals show wear - soiling, folds, wrinkling and a small tear in one petal."

Antique Halloween Postcard--Kathryn Elliott (1914)

Library Amnesty Day

One rainy spring afternoon in Baltimore, a man walked into one of the city’s smaller libraries. He drew a little attention to himself since he was wearing a burnouse. It was Library Amnesty Day, which meant that patrons could return overdue library books and have the fines for those books waived. He explained that he wanted to take advantage of this amnesty. The librarian asked him for his library card but he said, “I have none.” The librarian tried to get more information, but he fled. He was in and out of the library in under five minutes, but he did leave a plastic tube on the counter of the librarian’s station. This tube was discovered to contain an ancient papyrus. Obviously, this had not been borrowed from the small library in Baltimore. It was forwarded to one university and thence onward to several others. Eventually, it was determined that the origin of the papyrus scroll was the Library at Alexandria, burned when Caesar himself strategically set fire to his own ships during the siege of that city. The fire spread from the ships to the docks and then reached the vaunted library and consumed much of it, Plutarch informs us. Other historians insist the fire (or multiple fires) happened earlier or later. But all agree that the library and its precious volumes perished by fire. Had the Library at Alexandria ever collected such penalties, the overdue fee the mystery man was seeking to have discharged would have been astronomical. Even a modern robber baron would have difficulty paying such a fine. The scroll the mysterious man dropped off contained text in ancient Greek and hieroglyphics. The title of the work, when translated, was revealed to be How to Live Forever.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Interview

Richard felt very fortunate to have been granted the golden opportunity of an interview at Praseo.

His fiancée Helen wan’t the worrying type, wasn’t really the neurotic type. But the unexpected downsizing at Richard’s firm had caught their single income household by surprise. The young engineer had been unemployed for just over two months and his severance pay was dwindling rapidly. Also, there was a wedding in the works, not exactly a minor expenditure.

The morning of the interview, Helen and Richard went out to breakfast and chatted about the fantastic opportunity that had presented itself . Helen mentioned a figure she had heard bandied about. It was the starting salary of another engineer at Praseo, a spouse of a friend of a friend. "Well, alleged salary," she specified. "You know how gossip is." She smirked and Richard pointed out some egg goo above her pretty lips. They laughed.

Richard choked a little on his toast when Helen told him that. Had the toast been particularly dry? Or was it that somewhat stupefying figure Helen had just dropped?  Praseo had hugely lucrative government contracts. Defense contractors for the military raked in big bucks. Everyone knew that.

Richard dropped Helen off at their split-level in the burbs. She gave him a kiss through the driver’s side window and showed him her crossed fingers. She gave his hair a last little mussing. She kissed him once more for luck. And then he was off.

Richard arrived half an hour early at Praseo Industries. The company occupied an imposing highrise in a quieter sector at the edge of what would be considered "downtown." 

Richard knew to expect a ridiculously high level of security. He stood on the sidewalk before the building, and saw the entire ground floor was a solid, featureless titanium wall. When he stepped forward and spoke into the intercom (which was nearly invisible at first) a voice answered him in synthesized speech.

"Good Day, Richard Ames," the inhuman voice articulated. It was a woman's voice. "Please step into the vestibule." Two titanium panels separated left and right, and Richard stepped into the vestibule. Those panels closed behind him. He could still see nothing of the building itself, its interior, since another titanium wall was before him. 

A scanning process began. He could hear the low hum. He had sent in the requisite photographs and even a requested biological sample. He knew Praseo used highly advanced identification techniques for their employees.

"Approved," the human and inhuman voice said. "Proceed into the lobby."

The titanium door before him slid to the left, taken into the wall, and Richard stepped into the lobby. It was a chamber with a lovely atmosphere. A Satie composition played quietly, subtly.
Very tall palm trees nearly reached the high ceiling, planted in twin terrarium features on either side of the large room. There was the illusion of sunlight. Illusion because there were no skylights. But you felt as though you were experiencing actual sunlight. You looked up and there were "skylights" that seemed to show blue sky. The light felt like sunlight on the skin. But it wasn't real. It was Praseo engineering magic. 

There was not a single human being in the chamber. There was an information desk placed centrally, but Richard suspected it was only helmed on certain days, perhaps when representatives of the government or other corporations visited. 

Richard heard the burble of the koi ponds and felt himself start to relax a bit. Any company that could create such a welcoming, dream-like atmosphere had to be a company with vision. He felt proud just being there, just for being considered.

"Proceed to elevator, please," the artificial female voice said. He already felt he knew her. Though she did not exist.

As Richard stepped into the elevator, he noticed there were large iron rings protruding from three of its walls. The elevator doors closed and Richard prepared to speak his floor into the audio-tech sensor. But before he could do so, the female voice (he now thought of her as Rose," for some odd reason) said, in the flattest tones, "Prepare for floor dismantle." 

As the elevator began rushing upwards, without any specification as to destination, the floor of the elevator began dropping out in phases. There were four quadrants collapsing downwards. Richard grabbed onto one of the large iron rings and was soon swinging over the void of the dark shaft as the elevator skyrocketed upwards. He tried to resist looking down but failed. He saw certain death below his dangling feet. While it might have taken just over a minute to reach his destination, it seemed an eternity. Rose announced, "74th floor. Interview with Mr. Gravesend." The floor reassembled itself beneath his feet. But Richard didn't want to let go of the iron ring. The elevator floor was no longer a friend he could trust.

He waited for the door to open, his emotions weirdly in check. His brain zapped that figure Helen had floated at breakfast back through his neurons as incentive. He waited some more for the door to open. Did Rose have a glitch? Finally, she spoke. He sensed that some sort of preparation behind the door had been taking place. He just knew this, courtesy of that sixth sense we all possess.

"When the doors open, find the high frequency whistle to control Rupert. The elevator floor will dismantle in fifteen seconds and the stability rings will be retracted. Please disembark the elevator now."

What the fuck? And the doors did open. He stepped onto the drab grey carpet of a very long corridor. He was somewhere close to the middle of it. At the far end, he saw a very large dog sitting. The dog began running towards him immediately, growling savagely. 

Richard ran and opened a door marked STAIRS directly before him. There was a brick wall behind it. A fine joke. The dog was halfway to him when he opened the next door on an empty office. He stepped inside and slammed the door. The voice spoke instantly, directly into the room. "You may not stay in any room. Gas will be released in fifteen seconds. Should you choose to remain in this room, you will wake up back in your car. In that case, you will never be employed by Praseo Industries. Or you may continue on to your interview in room 7752." Rose fell silent.

He cursed himself as he grabbed a small metal chair for defense and stepped back into the corridor, determined to have his interview.

The dog was on him instantly, but he wielded the chair effectively. He saw the fangs covered in slather, and instinctively wanted to smash its skull in, silence its wild barking. He tried another door, randomly, not really thinking rationally, and saw a meeting in session. "Get the hell out of here!" the meeting leader said, and most of the other suits laughed. He stepped back into the corridor and slammed the door.

Richard hurried backwards down the corridor, keeping the chair between him and the maniac dog. He realized luck was on his side since the numbers on the doors were leading up to room 7752. He had gone the right direction when he stepped out of the elevator. But where the hell was the high frequency whistle? He passed a door that said simply "HELP" and realized that must be his target. 

He opened the door and was surprised to see blue sky through the windows. There was no one there, but on a large executive style desk there was a whistle suspended in a little case. He grabbed it while still fending the pit bull off with the chair. He was bleeding now from one ankle where the dog had made a lucky grab. He blew the whistle. There was no sound. Well, there was no sound Richard's ears could hear. But the pit bull instantly sat peacefully on its haunches and looked up at Richard expectantly. Almost like an innocent child. 

Richard was trying to catch his breath. He refused to put down the chair, calm dog or not. He noticed then there was a set of headphones on the desk with a note attached which read, "PLAY ME." He put them on and activated them. A real human voice, a man's voice, addressed Richard now: "Congratulations! You are now ready to be interviewed for employment with Praseo Industries. Please continue on to Room 7752. No worries. No more tricks or tests. Oh, one last thing. Should you get the job, you simply have to kill your interviewer. Mr. Gravesend. There's an ax located in his supplies closet. If he confirms your employment, kindly terminate him. We look forward to working with you at Praseo Industries." The voice was gone. Muzak began playing softly in the headphones. He took them off.

Richard stepped out of the room and closed the door on the dog, who never stopped giving him a look that seemed to ask when they were going to play catch together.

He proceeded to room 7752 and knocked lightly at the door.

"Come in," he heard from the other side. Once inside, an elderly man stood up to greet him warmly. It was like shaking the hand of one's uncle, a genuinely warm and beneficent handshake.

And the interview went swimmingly. 

At the conclusion, Mr. Gravesend smiled for a moment, his folded hands under his chin.

"You're a keeper, Richard. Praseo wants you."

Richard accepted the proffered hand. He looked at the liver spots on the hand. He saw how the hand was wrinkled, the skin so thin.

Richard looked at Mr. Gravesend's kind, twinkly eyes. He looked at the door of the office supplies closet. His eyes went back to Mr. Gravesend. To the closet. To Mr. Gravesend.

“What?” Mr. Gravesend asked, befuddled, a wave of misgivings suddenly coming over him, now visibly present in his face as a deepening of the wrinkles.


As Richard parked in front of his charming little house in the suburbs, he saw Helen waiting expectantly at the door. Her nervous smile. He knew she would love him either way. That’s what made it so wonderful.

“Oh my gosh, why are you in your gym clothes? What happened to your suit?” Helen wrinkled her nose in confusion as she opened the front door for him.

“I had a messy little accident. It was nothing.” Richard smiled. “Forget the suit. I never liked it anyway. Focus instead on the fact that you’re looking at the newest employee of Praseo Industries.”

“Well, let my throw these gold digging arms of mine around you, honey.” It was all a little party suddenly. A feast where there had been famine, mere hours before.

When she finally asked about the salary, they were both sitting on their living room sofa, holding hands like children. He whispered it in her ear, sexily.

She looked at him in a childlike way. It was much more than the alleged salary of the husband of the friend of the friend.

“And here’s the best part,” Richard continued. “They might have a job for you. On the fortieth floor, there’s an opening. And I think you’d be perfect for it. It fits your skillset to a T.”

“Really?” Helen shrilled. She was tickled. She had begun to feel guilty that she was really doing nothing with the education in which she had invested so much time and money. Guilty and stultified.

“Yes, hon, but they made me swear that I wouldn’t tell you anything about the Praseo interviewing process. And I won’t. You need to just mentally prepare as best you can. And, besides, they told me every interview is different. Just bring your best game. I know you can do it. I believe in you.”

Helen kissed him again. It wasn’t every man who would feel comfortable with his future wife working for the same company he did.

Richard was special like that: a real keeper.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A New Blitzkrieg

American Airlines’ Flight AA2497 departed Atlanta in the early evening, just after six, bound for Dallas-Forth Worth. It took off into a warm July sky. No storms waited in the flight path. The passengers felt mostly relaxed. It had been expected to touch earth again at 8:33 pm. local time. But it didn’t happen like that.

At 8:33 p.m. the flight was still circling, refused permission to land or continue on to any other airport. The United States Air Force had scrambled an E-3 Sentry alongside two F-22s. These interceptors waited to see what word would come down from on high. They were fully prepared to destroy civilian aircraft and snuff out American lives.

This is because Flight AA2497 had become two Flights AA2497. As the flight approached DFW, it had morphed into a set of mirror image twins. Both flights contained the exact same crew and passengers. And both planes were in a panic, as visual contact had been made between the two planes in mid-air. That is, passengers had seen their doppelgangers looking out the windows of the plane flying next to them. Transmissions from the pilots and co-pilots of these dual cockpits were nearly identical. Nobody was sure which plane was the “real McCoy” or whether such logic could even be applied to what had happened. The air traffic controllers were bewitched into stunned silence when they heard the same pilot transmitting from two different planes, his voice overlapping his voice.

The Secretary of Defense and the President were conferring. Since a state of war existed between the United States of America and that nameless species which had lately announced its existence as an interdimensional being living with us, interpenetrating us like photons, the decision was not an easy matter. They had already attacked our infrastructure and information technologies. There had been human casualties. Nobody really knew what “they” were. We had found ways to block them, we had used the best code we could finesse. But increasingly they made new incursions. They were able to interfere with the natural progression of time. They were able to use backdoors in space. We were at war. And yet nobody had ever even seen the enemy.

Everyone knew this anomaly of Flight AA2497 had been caused by them. But nobody knew the meaning of it. The President and the Secretary had to make the call. The flight was running out of fuel and refueling mid-air was not an option. It was ultimately decided to let both planes land. The military was evacuating the airport of civilians and all other flights were diverted elsewhere.

The planes taxied down separate runways only moments apart. The passengers and crews on both airlines were told they could not deboard. They were to be quarantined for an indeterminate amount of time — until the matter could be resolved. This was depressing news, but the passengers on both craft were genuinely relieved that they had managed to reach the earth alive.

The President breathed a huge sigh of relief when he was apprised that no earth-shattering disaster had occurred when the planes landed.

“We just have no idea what to do with all the extra humans,” one general joked. And which ones are the originals and who are the copies?”

They were still laughing about this when the call came through from the military brass on the ground at DFW. It was a panicked voice that relayed the information: “Sir, it’s the worst possible scenario. Nuclear option tenable. We no longer have two identical planes. We had two….then we had four identicals..then eight…sixteen…you get the picture. They’re just materializing and destroying the airport. It appears to be some sort of virus…some sort of spatial virus! There are hundreds of them if not thousands already. I have to evacuate because….”

There was a huge crashing sound of twisting metal and a scream. Many screams. Then silence.

And the mitosis of planes went on through the landscape, that warm summer night in Texas. Flight AA2497 went on duplicating, horizontally, city to city, and vertically, jets piled atop jets up into the clouds, even to the crack of doom.

And the passengers wondered and wondered and wondered as they watched and sometimes caught a glimpse of themselves through the wreckage, looking back at themselves in terror and hoping, hoping to get off the plane as soon as possible.

Helping Hands Daycare

I can’t remember Jake. I mean I can, but I won’t. Because Em and I have two other children now. And we want them to have a normal life. They don’t even know they might have an older brother somewhere. But since you asked, I’ll tell you. I can’t talk at length about this, so I’m going to be very brief. Just the basic facts. We don’t know any more than those few “basic facts.” Probably we never will.

I told Em from very nearly the beginning there was something different about that daycare. Helping Hands Daycare. Well, you know it’s gone now. The building burnt to the ground. There’s a Goodwill store in that lot. You’d never guess there had been anything else there. There’s no trace of it left.

When we first encountered it? Well, sure, it looked fine if you took a quick glance. Fingerpaintings hung proudly on the walls. There was up-to-date and safe playground equipment and stringent supervision at boisterous playtime. A current license. Healthy food. A strict sick-child policy to protect everyone. The staff was friendly and, most importantly, they interacted beautifully with the kids. Perhaps too beautifully. I just felt something was off with “Miss Marsha.” It was her business. You know they never found her. That was some other woman’s body in the fire. They said there had been an attempt to make it appear that it was Miss Marsha’s body. Well, DNA testing put that to rest.

How it began? Jake began coming home with dirt under his fingernails. I would ask him to explain and he used to shrug me off. He’d get that nervous look. I told him it was okay, tried to turn it into a joke. So eventually he said that disturbing thing, he just came out and said, “We have to feed them.”

My wife thought it was nothing at first. She said it was typical fantasy, a story sprung up between Jake and his playmates at Helping Hands. When he told us that the things lived under the daycare, in a sort of tunnel, that Miss Marsha would take them down there and they would feed these creatures, she laughed. She just snorted and whinnied and told her friends. She thought it was hilarious. “The monsters that live under Helping Hands Daycare.” I heard her mother and her laughing on the phone about it. I distinctly remember that. They hooted.

Em actually liked to hear Jake tell the stories. She’d encourage him. Even at the dinner table. Then she would correct him, but oh so nicely. She would say that she liked to hear him tell stories, that it was good he had an imagination.That someday he could write books and tell others these stories and they would enjoy them as much as his mother did. She said imagination was something about which Jake should be proud. He would nod at her and finish combining his mashed potatoes and peas. But I saw in his eyes that he thought she was crazy.

It all happened very quickly after that. The fire at the daycare. Miss Marsha presumed dead. Everyone wondered at the time why she would have been at the daycare in the middle of the night anyway, which is when the fire broke out. They still haven’t identified that young woman whose body was found in the fire. Maybe they never will. They did determine she died by a gunshot to the head and not from the fire itself.

Obviously, no children perished in that middle of the night blaze. But four of the children, the oldest enrollees, did disappear shortly after that fire.

“Abducted” is what the media report. In a sense, that’s true. But in another sense it isn’t.

I began waking suddenly at night in the period immediately after the fire. I’d often find Jake awake and creeping around the house. At three or four in the morning. Often, I’d catch him at the windows peering out into the night. My wife thought he had become a sleepwalker because of the trauma from the fire. We didn’t enroll him in a new daycare. It was all too disturbing and we wanted to keep him close to us. Em’s sister would watch him in the daytime. In our house.

I’d always ask Jake what he was doing up and what he was looking for out the window. He told me he missed his “special friend.” I was terrified there might have been sexual abuse going on and that Jake was turning it all into some sort of surreal fantasy narrative. I really only thought this after the fire. That’s what made me think the conflagration was used as a cover-up for some serious shit at Helping Hands. But, thinking back, I remember the strange fur we would find on his clothes. We knew animals, even pets, were not allowed in the daycare. We’d drop him off there and pick him up. He didn’t go anywhere else. So where was he getting that? And what sort of animal was it? My God, when I think back at how I just shook off so many anomalies, I want to go back in time and shake the shit out of myself, and that “normalcy narrative” to which I kept clinging.

Anyway, you know the end of the story. Or what I told the police. There is no real end to the story. I say I don’t remember, but I do. In the middle of the night, when I’m lying in bed, I think of Jake. And I listen. I leave the windows open in spring, summer, even late into autumn. I listen for the sound of that…beast. If it came once, it might come again. Jake might ride it back here. The way I saw him riding it that night.

My only consolation is knowing this: that beast would not harm Jake. Even with its incredible size (where does a creature like that even hide on earth? under the earth, of course, they must be under the earth!) and even with its monstrous tusks and that barbed tail, I could see it was tame to him. I saw him run to it in the backyard. It had been patiently waiting for him. I saw the beast lay its head to the earth, in submission. I watched as Jake scrambled up its back and took its reins in hand. And then the thing let out a weird guttural cry and they were off. I chased it. I chased them in my bare feet, in my underwear. But they were swallowed up by the forest behind our house. I heard Jake calling out commands to the thing.

The police didn’t know what to make of the tracks. They said I had been hallucinating. Ambien is known to have that effect. And I had been taking that drug at the time. I won’t deny that. The wouldn’t even put that in the police report. About the tracks. The only way it got in later was when I accused the police of covering it up, of trying to make me look crazier and more like a suspect.

But then, in their hearts, the cops knew I hadn’t done anything to harm Jake. Because he was one fourth of the “Ravenswood Four,” the kids who disappeared that night. All Jake’s age. And all former enrollees of Helping Hands daycare.

Who knows who Miss Marsha really was. And who knows where those four kids are now. I think Jake still has his mount. And I think he’s still riding that beast even as he becomes a young man. If I tell you I think he’s down there, under our feet, you’ll think I’m crazy. Far, far under our feet. But I know it’s true.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The White Cat

An old man began seeing a white cat in the mirrors throughout his apartment. He had collected antique mirrors for most of his adult life, so there were plenty of opportunities for sightings in every room.

The man owned no pets. Often in these antique mirrors the cat could be seen cleaning itself or perched on a windowsill enjoying a view of the city. The old man would swing around and look, but of course there was no cat on the windowsill, no cat daintily licking its paw as in the mirror.

One day, the man awoke and looked at a large bureau mirror across the room and saw a white paw protruding from its surface. “Get away!” he yelled, and the paw retreated. He saw the image of the cat fleeing into the backwards recesses of the mirror. It hid behind the reflection of his bed, although there was no cat behind his bed itself. He had checked.

The man began worrying that he had suffered a stroke, but the medical tests he underwent all came back negative. He was in good health, despite his age.

He visited a psychic who told him that the cat was a harbinger of death. He asked if this meant his death. She said she did not know. She urged him to paint the surface of all the mirrors with black paint. She explained that if the cat did indeed come over to “our side,” it would mean death.

The man defaced all his mirrors, ruefully. He sealed them with black paint. And then he covered them with sheets. He realized he was ruining a valuable collection, and his apartment looked ridiculous to him, but the seer had told him that it was his only option. She explained that he could not simply discard the mirrors. That would be too dangerous.

One afternoon shortly after that, the man woke from a nap to see the white cat curled up at the foot of his bed, fast asleep. He screamed, but it was a muffled sort of cry and he felt his heart seize at that moment. His head fell back upon his pillow for the last time.

As the man was being zipped into a black body bag, his upstairs neighbor, a redhead actress of twenty-four, poked her head in his open apartment door. She was holding a white cat against her breast. A breeze played through the white sheer curtains of the living room. These wraiths were lifting and falling in the dead man’s open window.

“Sorry. She comes down the fire escape sometimes. I’m afraid she’s a bit of a nosy parker. I think she liked him. He seemed a nice old man. If a bit odd.”

Angela tsk-tsked the cat in her arms as she walked upstairs, saying a little prayer for the dead man under her breath.

When she got inside her apartment, she released the cat, who jumped up on her bed at the same time she sat down there. She felt a strange little sense of loss, although she had never known the man. She shuddered when she thought about the mirrors in his apartment, how they had all been painted black. Who knows what happens in the minds of the aged, the lonely. She looked across the room at a mirror hanging on her wall and saw her white cat lying behind her on the bed, already curled up, eyes squinted shut. But she also saw another white cat. It was sitting on the bed next to her pet. It was not interested in her cat. This reflected cat was making eye contact with Angela via the mirror. The young woman spun her head around fast at the jolt of that intense stare. But, of course, there was only one cat there.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jack the Ripper

She looked down as the blade penetrated her dress.

“Oh God, please, No!” she shrieked.

“There’s no two ways about it, Missy, this is how it’s got to be done. Now be a luv and do shut your painted mouth, whore, and let old Jack do his work.”

She giggled and spun around to look at all the other dresses in the tailor’s shop. She loved Jack’s dirty mouth, loved bantering with him in this slutty way. And he did good work. When a working girl had been prospering and gaining a little weight from all those meals paid for by all those slimy clients, Jack was the one to let her dresses out, make them suitable apparel again. And he worked so quickly. His hands moved like a dream as he cut and basted and sewed. He was so good he could do it without even looking down, could tailor while carrying on a conversation and meeting your gaze.

“I suppose we shouldn’t joke,” he said. “It’s truly a dire situation with this lunatic butcher on the loose. I do hope you’re being careful, Catherine.”

“Oh, I know who to approach, love, and who to flee like the plague. Trust me, I’m not letting some complete stranger corner me in a dark alley. Not this bird! I’d sooner eat pigeon pie with a leper’s spoon.”

They chatted a few more minutes, settled the bill (with the customary discount Jack gave to the ladies in that line of work) and then the shop door chimed and she was gone into the night.

Jack loved talking to the girls. They told him everything about their lives because they knew he was discreet and non-judgmental. He knew their schedules, knew where to find them and at what hours. He knew their “dead hours” when they would be alone and hungry for business. He even knew where they lived. And, most importantly, they knew him. So should they encounter him on a foggy street at 3 a.m., they were never alarmed. It was just the dressmaker, the confidant. And should he suddenly prove himself to be thoroughly human, in need of a little attention himself, well, what a surprise, but not really. Men are men, aren’t they? And here was a chance to reciprocate that discount he offered all of them on their tailoring. A true gentleman. One deserving of a little pleasure. And so they would turn into the dark alley with him, that place they would never go with any mere stranger.

Jack walked into the back of his shop and laid the bolt of fabric back on its shelf. He looked down at a small pottery jar. He smiled as he removed the lid. He dumped the contents of it into his palm. Some liquid spilled between his fingers, then percolated down between the wooden floor boards below. Not blood but a preservative.

It was so beautiful to him. He loved holding it. Who knew a kidney could be one of the most sensual parts of a woman, almost as pleasing to feel as a beautiful mouth whose lips formed a Cupid’s bow.

He returned the souvenir to its receptacle, replaced the lid, and turned down the gaslight before leaving the storeroom. He turned down the light in his work room that fronted that busy London street, stared from darkness into darkness for a few moments, then stepped outside, locked his shop door, and disappeared into the fog.

He felt more alive as he became less visible in the fog. He never felt so charged as he did when he felt invisible. The London night was moist. It was moist with pleasure and promise. Jack passed a public clock and smiled at its glowing face. It was a countdown to ecstasy tonight. He had his tools on him. Time for some drinking and fantasizing, to whet his appetite. He couldn’t wait to see her familiar face on some desolate street corner, couldn’t wait to hear her voice chime, “Fancy running into you here!” It was just like tailoring, this night work. It took patience and the human touch. You just had to understand how all the parts fit together. If you wanted the pleasure of ripping it all to pieces later.